The following is a first draft of Assignment 1 for the ICTs for Learning Design course I’m taking. Am wondering how much it will change by Friday (submission date). If only to reduce it by about 1500 words to meet the maximum word count.
Mishra and Koehler (2008) view teaching with technology as a wicked design problem (Rittel & Webber, 1973). The topic of this assignment is directly connected with the understanding how to solve the wicked problem that is e-learning design. This assignment has aided in the development of an understanding of learning theories – with a special focus on the constructivist paradigm – Engagement Theory (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998), and the value of a number of thinking routines. In combination these provide useful abstractions, or ways of thinking, which appear to be very helpful for a student teacher trying to make sense of what is important when attempting to solve the wicked problem that is e-learning design.
This post consists of three main sections:
Summarising what was done in this assignment.
Discussion of various observations and ideas that arose from the assignment.
Lessons that have been drawn for my future practice of e-learning design.
This assignment can be said to have three main components: scaffolded learning activities; e-learning spaces; and, learning theories. Each is described in the following sub-sections.
Scaffolded learning activities
Table 1 summarises the three learning activities on which this assignment asked students to reflect. It was required that the reflection on each activity be posted to our blog. The names of the activities in Table 1 are links to the relevant posts on my blog. These blog posts were in turn supported through a blog reflection scaffold.
|Profile wiki||Share a personal profile, based on a provided template, with members of a group||Wiki templates|
|Learning theories wiki||Work with a partner to develop a Plus-Minus-Interesting (PMI) analysis of a reading about a particular learning theory. Each pair would post their PMI analysis to a Wiki. Each pair of different readings served as part of a Expert Jigsaw.|| Wiki.
|Mobile phones wiki||As a group, share insight about the role of mobile phone in education scaffolded with De Bono’s six thinking hats|| Wiki.
6 thinking hats.
The primary e-learning space used was a Wiki (Leuf & Cunningham, 2001). Each activity had its own Wiki implemented within version 1.9 of the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS). This Wiki is actually a fork of the ErfurtWiki (Cole & Foster, 2007), an older, somewhat less featured Wiki engine. A separate Wiki was created for each activity listed in Table 1.
The scaffolding for each activity was provided through the Moodle course site. Some of the scaffolding (e.g. for the 6 Thinking Hats structure) was embedded within the Wiki for that activity. Student reflections on these activities made use of individual student blogs.
The course readings and activities covered a broad array of theories. The diversity includes four very different perspectives on how learning happens in the form of behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism. There is further diversity within each of these learning paradigms. For example, Steffe and Gale (1995) describe six different versions of constructivism. Diversity was further increased through coverage of theories of a very different type. That is, theories which are not primarily focused on how learning occurs. For example, Engagement Theory (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998) is a framework for guiding how to design technology-based learning. Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson et al., 2000) offers a way to classify learning objectives or outcomes.
The release of the design framework (Fasso, 2011) for these activities revealed how the design drew on a specific combination of theories including: the constructivist paraadigm, Engagement Theory and Bloom’s taxonomy.
Each of the following briefly summarise the reflections generated by my participation in these activities.
Benefits of theories and other scaffolds
For me, if e-learning design is seen as a wicked design problem, then it is necessary to have scaffolding that helps a designer understand the strengths and weaknesses of certain approaches. It is useful to have suggestions around what works and what doesn’t. The types of theories, frameworks and collections of thinking routines we have been exposed to within this assignment provide examples of how nuggets of expert knowledge can be packaged and used. In particular, appropriate theories help the designer to “design solutions that honour the complexities of the situations and the contexts presented by learners and classrooms” (Mishra & Koehler, 2008, p. 2). But it is not only the designer that can benefit. Thinking routines provide assistance and scaffolding to students. I particularly found this through the use of the PMI and Expert Jigsaw routines used in the learning theories wiki.
These advantages have shown just how limited my previous educational experiences – as both student and teacher – have been. Looking and reflecting further on how my teaching can draw on the benefits offered by theories and other scaffolds will form an on-going part of my professional development.
Problems with theories and routines
The key benefit of these is that they offer abstractions that reduce the complexity of e-learning design by focusing attention on perspectives that are known to work. There are also some problems that arise from these abstractions. These are summarised as, abstractions can:
- Be wrong.
For example, connectivist proponents Downes (2009) argue that the conception of knowledge on which constructivism is based is wrong.
- Be inappropriate.
Theories like behaviourism were not developed within the education discipline. As such their migration into education is not without problems (Davis & Sumara, 2002, p 417).
- Be hard to implement.
The nature of the tools or the broader context can make it very difficult to effectively implement some of these abstractions. Dalsgaard (2006, n.p.) argues that learning management systems do not support a social constructivist approach.
- Encourage the law of instrument.
Kaplan (1998, p 28) framed the law of instrument as “Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding”. There may be a danger that e-learning designers, especially novices, will see every learning outcome as a nail for their theoretical hammer.
Complexity, constructivism and e-learning
Approaches to learning based on a constructivist perspective value placing learners in realistic or authentic contexts. This increases complexity for both students and teacher over more traditional approaches. While encouraging deeper learning and more critical thinking skills for students, this complexity also makes such approaches harder.
Adding technology in the form of e-learning adds to this complexity. Especially so in learning contexts, such as this course, where a significant percentage of learners are not all that familiar with technology. Even more complexity is added when the chosen technology is unreliable or difficult to use. An example of this was experience with the Moodle Wiki tool during the learning theories activity.
The need for ICTs with improved functionality
Throughout this experience my background in software development has led me to reflect on the functionality of the available ICTs. While the Wiki concept is tremendously useful as a collaborative writing tool, I am not sure that the functionality of the Moodle Wiki was appropriate to the constraints of this particular context.
For example, I only re-visited the Mobile phones Wiki two times after my initial contribution. Both times were sparked by a need to reflect and blog about the Wiki and revealed new insights about how the Wiki was being used. Had the Moodle Wiki notified me of changes (as some other Wiki engines do) I believe the value I received from the activity could have been enhanced.
From the first week of the course I have been considering the content from the perspective of teaching a senior (grade 11/12) class in Information Technology (IT). The following conclusions have arisen from that context.
Authentic contexts and problems
Too many IT courses rely on simple and narrow problems in order to focus on the principles. The readings on constructivism, connectivism, and Engagement Theory (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998) have reinforced the learning and motivational advantages of engaging students in authentic problems.
This is why I envision a two-year senior course in IT that is taught by engaging the students within an active community around a widely used open-source system such as Moodle or WordPress. The chosen system would have to have a fairly active community and a plug-in architecture. An active community provides an existing collection of resources, processes and people on which the students can build networks. The plug-in architecture allows students to independently choose the specifics of their final project.
Value of thinking routines
Active participation in an open source community is far from simple, is often very poorly scaffolded, and requires significant knowledge and experience. The type of thinking routines used in this assignment offer ways to scaffold student entry into this community and potentially lead to changes to the community. For example, the class could use a PMI analysis combined with an expert jigsaw to analyse some aspect of the system or its community. The results of that analysis could be fed back into the community and its operations.
Potential benefits of e-learning spaces
Within such a course, the use of e-learning becomes simpler, more authentic, and central to the course. Students would be using ICTs to participate in the system’s community in order to develop skills in ICT. It is no longer a question of whether to use e-learning spaces but how to better use them. In addition, it would make sense for the chosen system (e.g. Moodle or WordPress) to be used in providing those e-learning spaces. Thus opening up the possibility of students improving the system based on their own experiences.
Many of the typical difficulties with these learning approaches are mitigated by a combination of my background and the nature of the course. There do, however, remain some significant barriers. Not the least would be the sometimes quite significant distance between the experience and expectations of students, parents, and the school system and the reality of this type of approach.
While this assignment has helped significantly in offering guidance about how to design this approach from the perspective of the learning and teaching. The change management issues associated with the implementation of this type of approach within a given school context remain unanswered. At least until more is known about the nature of that school context.
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